Religion means different things to different people, and
definitions of it vary widely. Generally
it involves beliefs, behaviors,
feelings of devotion and
obligation to faith in the divine or what is held to be of ultimate
importance. For most
people, the latter is God, and religion is about faith in God.
In distinguishing between beliefs based on reason vs. those
grounded in faith, one separates beliefs
supported by facts and concepts, ultimately linked to observation and
experience, which fit together in a coherent way as part of a useful,
logical framework, and those for which there is no such basis, but
instead only one’s unshaken feeling of confidence, trust, and
willingness to believe. Many
religious people feel connected by their faith in God: they value the
sense of belonging and of community they feel by regularly attending
#8A: Monotheists worship one God, so they are not 1)
pagans or polytheists who worship many gods—the religion of such
indigenous peoples may be understood by considering their
"Belonging to Nature" (worldview theme #27), or 2) atheists or
agnostics. (Note themes #8A and #10 "Secular Humanism" are
diametrically opposed.) Christianity,
despite its belief that God is a
threefold Trinity: the Father (God), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy
Spirit, is nonetheless considered a monotheistic religion.
Proponents of "Monotheism" believe the universe had a
beginning and identify God as its Creator (Figure #8c).
They accept "Vitalism" (worldview theme #5B) but,
refusing to accept any particular religious holy book as God's literal
word, don't like "Religious Fundamentalism" (theme #9A).
They interpret such sacred
texts from historical and metaphorical viewpoints, rather than from a
literal, infallible God viewpoint.
Those who believe in one God or Cosmic Mind, but not one who
created the universe or supplied a vital spark, may appreciate
"Mysticism" (worldview theme #7A).
A key difference between mystics and monotheists is in how they
answer the question, "Reality is ultimately composed of what kinds
of substances and how many of each kind?"
The former adherents are absolute monists who answer
"One—All is One," whereas those preferring
"Monotheism" typically hold that Reality is composed of two
different kinds of substance, often referred to as matter and spirit
(dualism of substance).
Different conceptions of God arise from considering other
questions, a first being "How did God create the universe?"
Responses here might divide between those who 1) are deists,
reject teleology and feel God initiated creation (providing "first
cause"), but is otherwise a "Blind Watchmaker" who lets
the universe's subsequent evolution proceed through natural laws,
and 2) accept teleology and see God as an
Intelligent Designer who
purposely acts (Figure #8a), but makes no use of an "undirected
process such as natural selection."
Most scientists are more comfortable with the first view than the
Many Christians, Jews, and Muslims continue to believe
God created the universe out of nothing (creation ex nihilo.)
How powerful is a God who can do that?
Many feel He is omniscient and omnipotent—all
knowing and all powerful. Others
point to logical contradictions and difficulties that giving God
infinite knowledge and power can produce.
One of these demands consideration of the
God allow humans free will?" (see themes #11A & 11B).
religion ends with "Monotheism"—and doesn't extend to
"Belief in a Personal God"
(theme #8B) who looks out for you, perhaps to the detriment of
someone else, or in a God who uses words (theme #9A), or moralizes or
offers salvation (theme #14A)—you avoid beliefs that have divided
people for millennia, and difficult to answer questions about God. (See
Figure #8b.) In its
simplest form, monotheism is potentially a great unifying force for all
in a Personal God" involves conceiving
of God as a personal being with a personality.
Those who subscribe to it believe God interferes with the workings of the universe:
that His personal interest in the
world and its people is such that He will intervene on
behalf of worshippers (performing miracles or whatever).
Most claim to communicate with God through introspection and
praying. The latter can be
described as making humble requests of God—often preceded by
confession and accompanied by praise, evidence of adoration, expression
of gratitude, promises, etc. Many
people pray regularly, others only when seeking guidance during
Some see God as benevolent.
They believe in God's grace: that God, Nature or Reality
is ultimately on his or her side and will occasionally gift one with
unwarranted help, even when such belief is difficult to sustain given
hardships or evidence to the contrary.
Many Jews who survived the Holocaust—when half their population
was exterminated by the Nazis—continued to believe that a loving God
was looking out for them. Some
holy people—most recently Mother Teresa—have admitted to having
their faith challenged by a "dark night of the soul"— when they
felt God had abandoned them or no longer heard their prayers.
Some emerge from this with renewed faith.
Others view God darkly: as authoritarian, as very capable of meting out punishment—especially to sinners or the
ungodly. Psychologists trace the origin of such conceptions to
in the Western world have a child/Father relationship with God (the
Judeo-Christian-Islamic Conception of God). Children who grew up with a
dominating, authoritarian father may, as adults, always feel subject to
God’s authority and strive to obey His commands. One thus sees
how incorporating theme #8B into a worldview often leads to also putting
the "Moralistic God" of worldview theme #14A with it, and why
God is traditionally thought of as a He!
God, the Creator (anicent Chinese)
"Where was God on September 11, 2001?" many Americans wondered. In the aftermath of Islamic extremists striking a blow for Allah, dreaming of heaven, and attacking the most Christian of nations, some became even more disturbed by all religion. One of those was Sam Harris, whose concern motivated him to write The End of Faith. There he points the finger at sacred books of great religions: "each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility." He laments that "intolerance is... intrinsic to every creed" and that "certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." After connecting the attack with the behavior of the supposedly ungodly (pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians), the American Rev. Jerry Falwell said, "If we decide to change all the rules on which this Judeo-Christian nation was built, we cannot expect the Lord to put his shield of protection around us as He has in the past."